Author covers ‘Enigma of Reagan’ at 168th Landon Lecture

H.W. Brands, historian, author and Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair of History at the University of Texas, while giving the 168th Landon Lecture Apr. 7, 2016, in McCain Auditorium, tells and demonstrates a story about how a radio host interviewing him once covered up the microphone while on air to tell him there was something he needed to know. After the radio show, the host told Brands that to understand Ronald Reagan, one had to understand that he was the son of an alcoholic father. Brands went on to discover that this is what "made Reagan tick." (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

After finishing his biography on Ronald Reagan’s life, Henry Brands came to tell more about the former president at K-State’s 168th Landon Lecture on Thursday.

Brands teaches American history at the University of Texas at Austin and said he tries to keep his teaching engaging for his classes.

“I do try to teach, well, using stories,” Brands said during his lecture.

Brands not only teaches at UT Austin, but has written many presidential biographies, published various historical articles and is a regular guest on national television programs.

“The goal of the Landon Lectures is to bring the most prominent thought leaders to Kansas State University,” K-State President Kirk Schulz said, as he welcomed Brands to the Landon podium.

Some of the audience who came out had read Brands’ previous works and were excited to listen to more from him, according to Michelle McGuire, a Manhattan resident who came to the lecture after reading Brands’ biography on Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“When I saw that he was coming, I was really excited because I love authors and I love presidential biographies,” McGuire said.

The lecture covered what Brands said was the “Enigma of Reagan.” Instead of listing the reasons of Reagan’s actions, Brands told many stories of the former president’s life. Many of these stories have been told in Brands’ book, “Reagan: The Life.”

“This wasn’t just a study of his presidency,” Brands said.

Brands said he discovered that in order to really see why Reagan acted the way he did in his presidency, it is important to look at the time before Reagan became president.

Brands told a story of how Reagan had an alcoholic father, and that this lack of fatherly support may be the cause of emotional disconnection from his wife, Nancy Reagan. Other stories focused on Reagan’s career before his presidency and his life after being president.

“The people who make these decisions are not simply presidents,” Brands said. “These are flesh and blood individuals. And if you want to understand why they act the way they do, you need to understand them as individuals.”

After Brands finished speaking, one audience member asked where Brands gained his interest in history from. Brands responded with a story about how his father used to take Brands and his siblings on trips around historical areas in Oregon.

Along with his father, Brands said his grandmother gave an incentive for him to study poetry.

“She used to bribe us,” Brands said. “We would get paid a nickel for memorizing a short poem.”

Brands said that while this probably did not start it, from a young age, he always had an appreciation for stories.